For those of you who do not know, psychology has come a long way since Freud. One of my favorite psychologist, Paul Ekman, has demonstrated this. His work with emotions and microexpressions has influenced many people, and even inspired a hit television show. One year I was fortunate enough to read his book "Emotions Revealed" for a psychology report. Below is this paper. Please note that this is for entertainment purposes only. This report is my own, and is not to be copied or distributed at all. Please enjoy it!
Not very much is known about emotions. In Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life by Paul Ekman, the author described research he and his colleagues have done to explain different kinds of emotions people experience. The book had few weaknesses, and many interesting aspects. The book was very well thought out and informative.
Paul Ekman explains many emotions, how to identify them, and the practical uses of identifying them in his book. Ekman begins his book by discussing how some emotions are universal across cultures and people. This was first indicated when he “showed photographs to people in five cultures…and asked them to judge what emotion was shown in each facial expression” (Ekman, 3). Most of the people agreed on what emotion was being displayed by each emotion, leading to the first indication that some emotions are universal. In a later follow up study, Ekman and his colleague Wally Friesen studied films of a Stone Age culture and found that they “never saw an unfamiliar expression” (Ekman, 5), adding strength to their theory. In the next chapter Ekman discusses certain times when people become emotional. He has determined nine ways that emotions are activated. The ways are through auto appraisers, which are “automatic appraising mechanisms that are continuously scanning the world around us, detecting when something important to our welfare…is happening” (Ekman, 21), reflective appraisal that turns on auto appraisers, memories and imaginary scenarios that evoke emotions, talking about past emotional experiences, empathy towards someone, others telling us what to be emotional about, witnessing a violation of a social norm, and making the appearance of an emotion. Ekman then proceeds to discuss how one can change what they become emotional about. The main subject matter here was how scripts, refractory periods after becoming emotional, moods, and other such things cause us to become emotional and techniques to change that. The focus of the next chapter is how people behave when they become emotional and how to control their emotions. Ekman describes how emotions are shown mainly through the face and voice, and techniques for dealing with emotional people. Ekman then describes how sadness and agony feel, and how to identify those emotions. He talks about which muscles are used to create various levels of sadness and triggers for sadness. The description and identification of anger were covered next. Again, which muscles are used to display anger were discussed, triggers for anger, and how to deal with the emotion in oneself and in others. Surprise and fear were the next topics covered. Triggers for these emotions and physiological responses were covered. The next emotions that were covered were disgust and contempt. The triggers of disgust, “tastes, smells, and touches…the thought, sight, or sound of them… [and] also the actions and appearance of people, or even ideas” (Ekman, 173), were covered in detail, along with associated emotions with those emotions. After covering many of the so called negative emotions, Ekman goes on to describe enjoyable emotions. English does not cover all names of the positive emotions, so Ekman had to borrow from other languages. The enjoyable emotions are amusement, contentment, excitement, relief, wonder, ecstasy, fiero, naches, elevation, gratitude, and schadenfreude. The final main topic covered was how to identify lies. Ekman described how micro expressions, contradictions, and hesitation mark hot spots, which are “moments when we need to find out more [information] to make an accurate evaluation of truthfulness. The book was very detailed in these discussions, but easy to follow and understand.
The book was very interesting and had many strong points. One point of interest was the time Ekman took describing the facial expressions for each emotion. Emotions vary based on how strongly the emotion is felt and the social context that the emotion is felt in. However, some signals are apparent no matter how strong the emotion is felt. When describing sadness, Ekman describes the upward angle of eyebrows as a reliable signal “because few people can make this movement voluntarily, so it rarely can be deliberately fabricated…[and] even when people are attempting not to show how they are feeling, these obliquely positioned eyebrows will often leak their sadness” (Ekman, 97). By describing this aspect in such great detail and why it is a reliable indicator, he makes the complex task of understanding what to look for much easier. He also included “photographs of [his] daughter Eve…to explain how subtle changes occur in expression… [and] so [the reader] [would not] be distracted by the specific features of the person [the reader] see[s], and so [the reader] will be able to focus on how the expressions change” (Ekman, 101-102). These photographs, along with photographs he took while researching various Stone Age cultures and photographs from newspapers and news reels, show the degrees of the emotions quite well and how they can be analyzed in real life situations. This shows another interesting point of the book: the practical application of his and his colleagues’ research in everyday life and industry. On such application was a “program, developed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), that now includes [their] training on evaluating truthfulness…called SPOT, Screening Passengers by Observational Techniques” (Ekman, 228). The program trains personnel to observe passengers about to board planes, and, when deemed appropriate, “people are detained for further interviews, and in those cases a very high percent turn out to be wanted criminals, drug or money smugglers, illegal immigrants, or terrorists” (Ekman, 228). The strengths of the book, such as the effort to make the material easier to understand and the explanation of the practical application of his research, make Ekman’s book a very enjoyable book to read.
On the other hand, there were some very apparent weaknesses to the book. For one thing, at times there is little evidence to support what is being said. Ekman admits himself that he has “learned a great deal more than [he] [has] the time to prove through experiments” (Ekman, 1). Many times he uses “phrases such as ‘I have observed,’ ‘I believe,’ [and] ‘it seems to me…’” (Ekman, 1) to denote when he is basing a claim solely on observations and not just scientific research. Unfortunately, with so much information being told at one, the distinction between proven facts and educated conjectures becomes blurred and difficult to distinguish from each other. In addition, the book was very heavily influence by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, including several of the books he wrote. Though this is not a flaw in itself, some ideas such as the theory that we become afraid of snakes sooner than of guns because our evolutionary ancestors learned to become afraid of snakes, so it was passed down through their descendants. While it sounds logical, there was little evidence presented to back up this claim. Another weakness, although a very minor was, is the constant repeating of states facts and ideas. As just one example of this, many times throughout the book Ekman stated that “knowing how a person is feeling doesn’t mean that you necessarily will want to acknowledge it” (Ekman, 107), to the point that it was stated in different ways in many of the chapter, sometime multiple times, especially when describing anger. Though many facts were meant to reinforce some information, it became very repetitive at times. Though Ekman’s book had a few weaknesses, its flaws never really got in the way of the enjoyableness of the book.
Taken as a whole, Emotions Revealed was a very entertaining and informative book. The many different universal emotions were described in sufficient detail so that almost anyone could identify the emotions in both themselves and in others. The efforts taken to ensure that the reader fully understood many of the concepts and expressions made many things easier to understand. By describing the practical applications of his research, Ekman added a sense of relevance and enlisted further interest from the reader. The few weaknesses in the book were so minor that they did not make the book any less informative or less interesting. Paul Ekman relates the findings of his research and many of his theories in a very well laid out and descriptive way.
What did you think? As always, please leave a comment or contact me to let me know your thoughts. I apologize for the length of this post, but I haven't had time to do a proper one. I'm going to try to fix that by moving the post day from Friday to Sunday. This way I can still write a quality post for you guys and focus on my academic work. See you next Sunday!